Anger in The Ref


Often marriage offers a comfort level that can make taking one another for granted or taking advantage of one another standard practice. Anger and resentment builds when one or both members feels undervalued. We may also resent it if we feel our spouses want more or demand more than we are able to give. We may end up feeling trapped in our most intimate relationship. When the seven deadly were first named anger was called wrath. As opposed to the occasional episode of anger that is a reaction to a specific event, a wrath is a general disposition of malice, fury, vengeance or bitterness.

Lloyd and Caroline Chausseur in the movie The Ref are experiencing these emotions. Bickering has become a way of life. The title character, Gus, kidnaps the Chausseurs after a bungled burglary in order to hide out at their house but instead finds himself “reffing” this dysfunctional family on Christmas Eve. He describes the experience as “the fifth ring of hell.” Exasperated he gives them an ultimatum “Married people without guns – for instance – you – DO NOT get to yell. Why? NO GUNS! No guns, no yelling.” But even the gun cannot keep them from arguing.

Caroline is bitter because her life hasn’t met her expectations. Lloyd hasn’t met them either. She has an affair. She constantly rehashes the events that led up to their current circumstances, accusing Lloyd of compromising and shutting down. She offers no alternative solutions but feels trapped and unhappy. Caroline has developed a victim mentality in which she’s constantly frustrated, believes she has every right to complain, and has no power to change the circumstances. Waaah, waaah, waaah….

Lloyd also feels trapped believing he’s carrying all the responsibility. He points out that Caroline leaves “the deciding” to him then complains about the decisions. Lloyd expresses his resentment: “You…think you have some right to life working out the way you want it to, and when it doesn’t, you get to act the way you want. The only trouble with that is someone has to be responsible… You think my life turned out the way I wanted because I live in this house? You think every morning I wake up, look in the mirror and say “Gee I’m glad I’m me…” Lloyd has built a wall of bitterness to protect himself. No hope means no disappointment.

Lloyd and Caroline have no problem expressing their anger but cannot find a way to communicate constructively and actually deal with their issues. Their passive aggressive bickering is their primary form of interaction. Only when Gus ties them together do they really begin to talk. Being trapped together helps them to communicate how each has felt trapped separately. Instead of husband and wife as adversaries against each other they become a united front against the problems they are facing.

It can be scary, but sometimes we need to confront even if we lose. We can and should hone our communication skills, gather good data, build consensus, all the things we are supposed to do in order to bring about change. Being right and assigning blame are not going to alter circumstances. We can’t control every circumstance. We can’t control other people. All we can control is our reaction to the circumstance.

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